Innovators: Training to lead

Con-way gains efficiencies and encourages collaboration through the new Con-way Leadership Academy.

With its $750 million acquisition last month of truckload carrier Contract Freighters Inc., Con-way furthered a number of strategic goals, from diversifying its revenue mix to improving margins to enhancing its presence in Mexico. But throughout its history, Con-way has invested in something more fundamental and more strategic: Its people.

“Con-way has always put great emphasis on employee training, believing that if employees know how to do their job well, they will,” says Pat Jannausch, vice president of culture and training of the San Mateo, Calif.-based transportation and logistics management company.

Douglas Stotlar reinforced this commitment to training and personnel development when he took the helm as Con-way president and chief executive officer in 2005, Jannausch says. Stotlar appointed her to the new position of vice president of culture and training in June of that year as part of an organizational realignment.

Based in the Ann Arbor, Mich., office, Jannausch – a Con-way veteran since 1983 – was tasked with developing the company’s culture. That involved, among other things, creating a corporate constitution that certifies core Con-way values. Stotlar also charged her with developing training and a new companywide leadership development program.

In May of this year, Con-way rolled out the Con-way Leadership Academy – an initiative to formalize and enhance employee training and professional skills development already in place at Con-way’s three principal operating units: Con-way Freight, Con-way Truckload Services and Menlo Worldwide.

“Con-way would not be the solid, progressive company that it is today without the expertise and exemplary skills of every one of our employees – and the extensive training that helps them be most effective for our customers,” Stotlar said in June when Con-way announced the academy’s creation.

An approach, not a place
“The Leadership Academy is not a place or building, it’s a model,” Jannausch says. “It helps us organize in our minds where the responsibilities lie.”

To appreciate the Leadership Academy’s function, it helps to understand how training has been done throughout Con-way’s business units for years. Each business unit is responsible for ensuring that each employee receives the proper training for the fundamentals of his position. Individual business units also have been responsible for training their managers in leadership fundamentals – skills like communications, delegation, teambuilding, planning, organization, change leadership, and so on.

Another effort has been a program called Advanced Leadership Preparation for Highest Achievement (ALPHA), which involves picking a select few – no more than 10 per year – high-performing managers for a strategic leadership curriculum that grooms them to be future leaders of the company. Con-way Freight launched the ALPHA program in 2003, and Con-way now has adopted it corporation-wide, with the first candidates beginning their three-year curriculum in October.

Con-way also encourages development of its senior management on an ad hoc basis through workshops, symposiums and the like. “At Con-way, professional development doesn’t stop once you reach the height of your career,” Stotlar says. “In fact, we believe our top-level executives have more responsibility than anyone to improve, grow and develop their leadership abilities.”

Today, all of these layers of training – employees; frontline and middle managers; future leaders; and executives – fall under the Leadership Academy umbrella. From an operational perspective, however, the most significant change is the new approach to training for leadership fundamentals, Jannausch says. It still makes sense for individual business units to conduct training on the job-specific fundamentals within their organizations, she says; for example, the training needs for workers at Menlo’s warehousing operations clearly are quite different from those for workers at Con-way Truckload. But a 2005 review of training efforts suggested changes elsewhere.

“We saw no reason for each one of the companies to have its own leadership fundamentals training,” Jannausch says. So business units still conduct their own training in “position fundamentals,” with support from Jannausch’s team. But now, Sharon Cloke, Con-way’s director of training, manages leadership training worldwide on a day-to-day basis.

From relationships to execution
Leadership fundamentals training consists of four two- to three-day courses, which all front-line supervisors and middle managers are expected to complete over about two-and-one-half years, Cloke says. Participants start with “Building productive relationships,” which includes skills like communications, coaching and building trust. Six months later, they take “Achieving excellence,” which covers teambuilding, delegation, conflict management and staff development. The next course is “Aligning values & actions,” which focuses on change leadership, inspiring others and focusing on customers. The final course is called “Getting it done,” and it addresses decision making, planning and organization.

As of May, Con-way is conducting training on leadership fundamentals at five U.S. locations – Portland, Ore.; Buena Park, Calif.; Aurora, Ill.; Ann Arbor; and Dallas/Fort Worth, Cloke says. Beginning in October, the Leadership Academy goes international, first in Amsterdam and then Singapore in November. Eventually, Con-way will conduct training in New Delhi, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Currently, each of the five U.S. sites conducts one course in the leadership fundamentals curriculum each month, Cloke says. This year, 950 managers will complete the first course. Next year, participation grows to 2,480 people as managers take the second course and supervisors enter the program.

Although efficiency as a big impetus for the Leadership Academy, the move is designed to bring benefits that potentially are far more significant, Jannausch says. In implementing the program, Stotlar recommended that Jannausch’s team ensure that each class include personnel from each of the operating units as a way of promoting collaboration and perhaps even career mobility among them.

The goal is for people, ideas and best practices to flow not just up and down within Con-way Freight, Con-way Truckload and Menlo Worldwide, but also across the Con-way organization, Jannausch says. “It’s a strategic move to combine talents.”

Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges.

If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact Avery Vise at [email protected] or (800) 633-5953.